Transport plan is not anti-car – it’s pro-people. It will free up roads for those who need them most. And it’s not wishful thinking

Opinion: Responses were sceptical, muted and mixed this week when Auckland Council released its board strategy to reduce the city’s transport emissions by 64 percent by 2030.

Too ambitious, too difficult, too short a time, too much intrusion into people’s personal choices, too draconian on cars and too little money was on offer were typical criticisms.

Only those deeply into the issues were excited by the range of proposals and the positive impact they would have. All Aboard Aotearoa and its member groups are insightful sources. Limited experience here and abundant abroad show we will make Auckland a much better place to live and work, with economic and health benefits to boot.

So, clearly there’s a big task ahead to make the public more aware of our transport problems, and more enthusiastic about our solutions. The local body elections will only make the task harder. The proposals could easily become a campaign flash point, and reduce support for the proposals in the new council and local boards.

Let’s start with some real time data. I’m writing these words just after 5pm on Wednesday, August 17. This is what Auckland’s traffic looks like right now:

All quiet on Motutapu Island, at least, according to this screen shot from the TomTom Traffic Index’s Auckland page.

This is a screen shot from the TomTom Traffic Index’s Auckland page. The index covers 404 cities across 58 countries on six continents. It ranks Auckland’s traffic as the 66th worst in the world.

If you think we could live with that, then consider this real time data from the Auckland page as I write: there are 255 traffic jams around the city (stretches of road where free flow is impeded) totalling 214.6km.

Yet, it could be worst. We’re only at 83 percent congestion as I write, and only 5 percent above the average for this time and day of the week. Oh, and our current congestion level so far this year is running 2 percent higher than last year. But how bad would it be by 2030 if we don’t act?

Next data point. We have approximately 540,000 households in Auckland. We’re adding about 1,000 new ones a month. By 2030, we’ll have added another 100,000 households, an increase of 18.5 percent.

So, let’s say we want to remain highly reliant on cars for getting around the city, where will we build the roads (and places to park cars) to accommodate such an increase in people? Roads are expensive. How big a bill are you prepared to pay?

Next data point. Auckland’s traffic fumes caused an estimate 939 premature deaths in 2016. That’s a figure from the first such scientific modelling of air pollution in New Zealand, released last month.

The estimated toll of premature deaths across the country from traffic fumes that year was 2,247, while traffic accidents caused only an additional 327 actual deaths. The total deaths from all sources of air pollution was 3,317 of which only two were industrial.

The cost to the nation of that pollution was an estimated $15.6 billion in 2016. If we invested a fraction of that each year on more, better and wider transport options, imagine how much better off we’d be in economic and personal terms.

Almost all cities of the world are wrestling with these issues. C40 is a network of some 100 large ones sharing knowledge and experience on how to tackle their climate crises. Transport is a particular focus for them. It accounts for a third of their emissions, and is their main, and fastest growing, source of air pollution; 36 of them have committed to making a major area of their city zero emissions by 2030. Auckland is one of them.

Yes, the key goal of Auckland Council’s Transport Emissions Reduction Plan is big. But we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than half by 2030. That’s what it will take for transport to play its fair share in meeting our international climate commitments. And we might have to go even harder and faster, given the speed with which climate is changing here and around the world.

The plan is designed to give people more transport options so they choose not to use their cars as much, as this chart from the plans’ summary shows:

We’ll need to make some big changes to reach our goals

Some of these are highly challenging and essentially beyond the control of the city and its people. A crucial example is a 50 per cent cut in aviation emissions. That depends mainly on clean tech breakthroughs by global aircraft, engine and fuel makers.

But other big goals such as a reduction in vehicle/kilometres by 50 percent by 2030 are within our power. Other cities such as London and Brussels have achieved similar goals over similar timeframes.

We’re lagging very badly, though, because of our high usage of cars and low usage of public transport, walking and cycling, as this recent Newsroom analysis showed. But the government has plans to invest more in those non-car modes of transport. We can catch up with other cities abroad if we appreciate the benefits of doing so and get stuck into the challenge.

Such a transport transformation is pro-people, as this chart from the summary of the benefits shows, and other cities are already achieving them.

Those changes have some big benefits

It’s not anti-car, as many critics contend. In fact, it will reduce traffic so vehicle journeys will be quicker, more efficient, less polluting and less frustrating. That applies to moving people and freight.

And it’s not wishful thinking, which is another uninformed criticism of it. A great deal of analysis has been going on in the Climate Change Commission, government and council over the past year or more, as this analysis on the Greater Auckland website reported recently.

Big transport transformations can happen fast. Just one historic example is the speed with which cars displaced horses in US cities in the early 20th century, as this famous pair of photos of New York City’s 5th Avenue shows: “Spot the car” in 1900; and “Spot the horse” in 1913.

 Chart 4

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